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46 Responses

  1. karak
    karak November 11, 2008 at 1:17 am |

    Absolutely not.

    This reminds me of something my mother’s caseworker told me about (my mother was a single teenage mother who was on welfare for a short time, thus, needed a caseworker).

    This woman walked into a hospital, police station, school, and a few other places with an eight year old boy. “Take him away from me, or I am going to hurt him,” she told officials. She was lectured on “proper procedure” and so on and so forth, and when presented with forms, walked out.

    The next day that little boy was in the hospital. True to her word, she’d beaten the ever-loving shit out of him. He was in hospital care for a week.

    Don’t “punish” “bad parents” by not allowing them to give up their children. If these people had access to healthcare, birth control, and other resources, they would use them. But they do not. Kids deserve to be wanted, not tolerated.

  2. mzbitca
    mzbitca November 11, 2008 at 9:15 am |

    I work in mental health and a section of our organization is child services. there is a mother who is getting frustrated with her 15 year old daughter who they adopted at 4. They are sick of dealing with her (they knew there was a risk of beh. problems) and want to give her back up. She is very aware of the Nebraska law and is actually considering it. I’m torn in that I dont want a child to be in any danger but there is something that scares me about a mother packing a teenager in a car and leaving them somewhere….that has to be so damaging to the adolescent and their mental health…

  3. Vail
    Vail November 11, 2008 at 9:31 am |

    This just goes to show how much we as a country need to work on. We need to make sure there is no stigma for dealing with mental health, that employers need to be more flexible for parents caring for children with issues and that health care needs to be better funded. I know that we have a limited amount of times our HMO will cover RAD therapy for our daughter. For her sensory issues we still have to pay some of it out of pocket for every visit. The sheer bureaucracy in the system is daunting. And forget trying to go out of the HMO system to try to find the best care for your child’s issues, if they don’t have someone who specializes in their issues, your stuck with whatever they have. I compare it to going to a medical doctor. If you have chronic sinus infections why see a dermatologist? So why would I want to take my child who has Reaction Attachment Disorder to someone who specializes in ADD?

  4. Dump, Baby, Dump « Superlative In All Things

    […] 2008 Posted by superlagirl in Public Service Announcements. trackback Lauren, at Feministe, has started a discussion about the Nebraska Safe Haven fiasco.  I’m a little afraid to follow the thread.  If […]

  5. Cara
    Cara November 11, 2008 at 10:20 am |

    It’s a really impossible situation with no great solutions, but I think that I ultimately come down on the side of Karak. The caveat being that I don’t think we should leave the laws as they are and drop the issue, but that the laws need to be left as they are and we need to work to find other ways to reach these kids and their parents before this kind of situation occurs.

    I will say that whenever this law comes up, most seem to go with “this isn’t what we wanted, this is horrible, we have to revise the law” and it pisses me the fuck off. Great, wonderful — then what? What does “fixing the law” do other than take the “burden” off of the state? How does it help these kids or their parents? It doesn’t.

  6. Thomas
    Thomas November 11, 2008 at 11:14 am |

    I’ve seen all kinds of ways parents abandon teens, no law necessary. The well-off pack them off to boarding school or inpatient rehab. The authoritarians send them to “boot camps” where they are physically abused into compliance. Some just kick them out, or abuse them until they leave.

    To my way of thinking, we have a much bigger problem than a few teens being dropped off at hospitals. We have a society that tells everyone they are supposed to be spouses and parents; that marks every other modus vivendi as pathology or aberration. Well, not everyone wants to be a parent, and not everyone should want to.

    I say this as a parent: it ain’t easy. I thought long and hard before I jumped into it. Having children has changed every aspect of my life. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I knew what I was signing on for.

    If people knew what a commitment it was, and really believed they would be honored in the choice to remain child-free, there would be a lot fewer parents. (And because a lower rate wouldn’t reproduce a stable population, after a while we’d have to offer parents more support, but that’s a longer rant.)

    The move to change the statute is the same instinct as abstinence-only education and anti-abortion laws: ignore the problem. The statute may change, but the problem will remain.

  7. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers November 11, 2008 at 11:54 am |

    Mzbitca, I totally understand where you’re coming from. Abandoning a child seems like an awful thing to do.

    But if the alternative is that the parent kills the child and then themselves, because they think that they will all be happier if dead; or if the parent kills the child because they can’t take it anymore, or because they have gone insane; or if the parent beats the shit out of the child… wouldn’t the abandonment have been better?

    My husband became emancipated from his parents at the age of 17 because of physical abuse he suffered. But emancipation, in a state where, like most states, the social safety net is frayed, meant he was an “adult”. No one told him what services he could access, and he ended up working at McDonald’s to pay his rent because he could get free food there, and starved on days when he didn’t have work. I think he’d have been better off if at the age of 15 when the abuse was getting bad his parents had gotten fed up with him and dropped him off at the hospital to get him off their hands.

    Would Andrea Yates, who knew there were voices telling her that she was a terrible mother and her kids were going to go to hell because she was such a bad mother for some time before she snapped and killed them to “save” them, have been able to *not* kill her kids if she could have driven them to a hospital and dropped them all there? She thought her children were doomed to go to hell unless she killed them because *she* was a bad mother who could not raise them to be good people. Maybe she might have thought that someone else could do a better job, if she’d had it as a safety net.

    I think there should be safe haven laws that allow *any* child, of any age, to be dropped off at a hospital. And then this could trigger getting social service help for the parents who did it (NOT criminal prosecution), as well as aid for the child who is dropped off. And eventually maybe the child could be reunited with the family if the situation that caused the problem was alleviated. The man in Indiana with 9 kids who dropped them all off because his wife was dead and he couldn’t handle raising 9 kids by himself… maybe he’d have been a perfectly fine dad if he’d gotten some grief counseling, some antidepressants to get him over the hump caused by his wife’s death, some state assistance with his bills until he could get back on his feet, some training in how to manage 9 kids by himself (some of them were quite old enough to have helped out with the younger ones). Would any of those kids have been better off if Dad had shot himself, or himself and them, or hopped a train out of town because he was too overwhelmed? *Given* that their father was collapsing from depression and overwork and could not take care of them, being dropped at a hospital was probably the best thing that could have happened to them.

    When we have safety valves in society, often people look at the use of the safety valve as a bad thing because it’s not an ideal. “Well, women should not abort their babies!” Yes, but if you don’t let them do it legally, either they will do it illegally, and possibly die, or they will end up in much worse straits financially and emotionally and be lousy mothers. “Well, gays shouldn’t raise kids!” Maybe you think so, but who are you to tell a child that she can’t be with her beloved mommy anymore because mommy loves a woman? And in this case, the more reasonable, “Well, people should not abandon their children”, must be answered with “Yes, that’s true, but if they *cannot* manage to raise their kids, abandoning the kids in a legal way is better for them than starving them, killing them, beating them, prostituting them, neglecting them, or abandoning them anyway without a legal structure that will protect them afterward.”

    I think that when you accidentally create a safety valve and notice that all of a sudden people are using it, it should tell you that there is a demand for that valve, and you should ask what would happen to the people if you shut it down again.

  8. beka
    beka November 11, 2008 at 12:51 pm |

    Considering that the root problem is the lack of social support for families with special needs for their children, shouldn’t insurance/healthcare reform and better welfare/awareness mitigate the issue? Before the state changes the statute and all, they ought to look into this, wait a while, and maybe the situation will have improved by then.

    And yeah, there should be a lot more options available to those families. Alara puts it best: “I think that when you accidentally create a safety valve and notice that all of a sudden people are using it, it should tell you that there is a demand for that valve, and you should ask what would happen to the people if you shut it down again.

  9. mustelid
    mustelid November 11, 2008 at 1:22 pm |

    My (adoptive) parents used to threaten to ‘give me back’…starting…around age 8, I think. W/ hindsight, I have to say I’ should have gone for emancipation at age 16. Those two extra years to freedom really cost me…I was probably less competent at age 18 than at age 16, largely due to a certain evil abusive fuckwit therapist.

    Yes, by all means, keep this safety valve. Make it easier to end hopelessly dysfunctional family relationships. Combine this w/ better access to needed services all around, and maybe things won’t have to get to that point for many families.

  10. Ashley
    Ashley November 11, 2008 at 1:44 pm |

    I agree with Thomas’ point about people becoming parents. I’ve been married for just over a year and am already being pressured hard-core to drop the birth control and get myself preggers.

    The Nebraska law demonstrates the inherent flaws in our system that simultaneously forces people who have had children — that alone doesn’t make them parents, in my view — to keep them and gasps at the idea that those people need support services to make a go of a bad situation.

    It comes back to reproductive freedom, allowing for birth control options, support and safe, affordable and accessible abortions to allow people to make those choices. Children should never be born unless they are truly, genuinely wanted. Natch.

    And then support systems ought to be in place for when those children who are wanted become difficult. Safe Haven laws, while well-intended, are way too easy and paint a complex situation in black and white. Hand-wringing hysteria about prom dumpster babies should be leading us to think about protecting and helping their mothers first and the babies second.

    Apologies for the rambling; I seem to be unable to conduct a coherent argument today. Point being, services: yes. Reproductive options: double yes.

  11. cathy
    cathy November 11, 2008 at 2:12 pm |

    Ashley, you said “Safe Haven laws, while well-intended, are way too easy and paint a complex situation in black and white. Hand-wringing hysteria about prom dumpster babies should be leading us to think about protecting and helping their mothers first and the babies second. ” But safe haven laws do help women, especially very young women, who end up with an unwanted pregnancy that is carried to term. It gives these women a way to give up the child without causing the child harm or getting the woman prosecuted for child abandonment. While better sex ed, birth control access, and more access to adoption counseling is a better way, we still need to catch the people who fall through the cracks. Safe haven laws aren’t the whole solution, but they are part of it. While we are at it, let’s get socialized medicine, increase social welfare programs, improve the adoption system, offer more low cost and free parenting classes, etc.

  12. akeeyu
    akeeyu November 11, 2008 at 2:51 pm |

    I wonder how much of Nebraska’s hand wringing has to do with the fact that instead of Cute Little Pink Babies that everyone wants to adopt, their Safe Haven law netted them a handful of noncute adolescents that are historically hard to place, and will probably remain on the public dole until they age out.

    I mean, would they really be disturbed by the *quantity* of children dropped off if the children were tiny and easily adopted out?

    I get the whole “Won’t someone think of the children?” argument that says being abandoned at 10 sucks, psychologically, but I fail to see how being raised by someone who WANTS to offload you and CAN’T is some boon to children everywhere.

    My husband thinks it’s a presumption of innocence thing. We must all rescue the cute little babies, but innocence and intrinsic value tends to tarnish and fade over time (as you know if you’ve ever been forced off the road by some asshole with a CHOOSE LIFE [fetus picture] bumpersticker plastered to their car), making rescuing 13 year olds less appealing.

    We’re all children of Jebus until we’re old enough to talk back, I guess.

    So yeah, I’d say keep the law as is, AND use it as evidence that social services need to step it up.

  13. atlasien
    atlasien November 11, 2008 at 3:01 pm |

    I agree with the author that many infant Safe Haven laws are unhealthy responses to “dumpster baby” hysteria. They have not been shown to decrease infant mortality in any way, shape or form.

    There are two separate issues there: the criminal status of abandonment, and anonymity. No, a mother in dire straits should not have to face punishment. I think everyone agrees on that. But many Safe Heaven laws go beyond into what many call a sop to the most regressive elements in the adoption industry. Encouraging anonymous abandonment means that the child will grow up with no knowledge of who their biological parents are. What if the child has a genetic disease? What if the child had a grandparent or aunt or uncle who would have loved to raise them?

    It’s also better for the health of the mother. If a mother turns up at the hospital and abandons a baby, and then leaves anonymously, that means she doesn’t get any chance to be helped. She could be facing abuse from her parents or her spouse, or be going through serious post-partum complications.

    There is already a way “to give up the child without causing the child harm or getting the woman prosecuted for child abandonment”… it’s regular adoption. Regular adoption should preserve the right of the child to know their biological parentage.

    The Nebraska cases are of older children, and the issue of anonymity really doesn’t apply as much. This discussion is very interesting! I have usually seen the issue approached from an adoption reform perspective, but in the Nebraska cases, the adoption is really secondary and the issue of social services accessibility comes to the forefront.

  14. mzbitca
    mzbitca November 11, 2008 at 3:02 pm |

    Alara,

    I agree that I would always want a child surrendered if there was any chance of danger and I thought I made that clear in my original response. I was mostly talking out of frustration because this woman adopted two children and is frustrated at the work one is requiring. However, whenever we try in family therapy to get her to make changes in her behavior she responds that she does not have the time or the energy we need to fix her “bitch of a daughter”

    I personally think that this safe haven law is really showing the large problem out there and I hope it helps get increased funding to children services and to parenting.

  15. Superlagirl
    Superlagirl November 11, 2008 at 3:46 pm |

    “But safe haven laws do help women, especially very young women, who end up with an unwanted pregnancy that is carried to term. It gives these women a way to give up the child without causing the child harm or getting the woman prosecuted for child abandonment.”

    I’m curious about this. My understanding is that safe haven laws have been criticized by adoption reform groups as being exploitative of new mothers in distress. Without legal counseling and supportive services, offering a parent in crisis to abandon a child *no questions asked* is rife with opportunity for coercion.

    I think what makes the Nebraska situation such a cluster fuck is that pulls back the veil on how atrocious the state of child services really is. And maybe I’m just hypersensitive about it, but this dumping off of children with psychiatric problems sounds suspiciously similar to the sending away of children with developmental disabilities that was so popular in the 50s and 60s. Is that really the route we want to go? I think there absolutely should be emergency respite care available for these families, but allowing parents to permanently relinquish custody without a formal process doesn’t seem to really help anyone.

  16. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers November 11, 2008 at 4:01 pm |

    There is already a way “to give up the child without causing the child harm or getting the woman prosecuted for child abandonment”… it’s regular adoption. Regular adoption should preserve the right of the child to know their biological parentage.

    Yeah. But the problem with this is that, if the woman absolutely does not want anyone to know that she was pregnant, the thought that the kid could come back later on and tell her entire family that she was pregnant in her teens might lead her to think that dropping it in the trash is the lesser of two evils. Anonymous abandonment of children sucks, but as long as women are singled out for scorn by *anyone*, anyone at all, in our society, for either being a mother or for being a mother who gave her child up for adoption, it is a necessary safety valve.

    And I suspect that part of the reason Safe Haven laws don’t help as much as they should is that no one knows about them. Until I got heavily involved in reading about feminist issues *I* didn’t know that people could drop babies off at hospitals or fire departments, no questions asked… and I was a very well-informed teenager in general.

    I have seen many billboards in my life for paternity testing, don’t have sex when you’re a teen, talk to your teens about sex, and you should get married because it’s better for your kids. I haven’t seen *one* for the Safe haven laws.

    Again, given the choice between “be given up by a parent who hands over genetic history information” and “be given up by an anonymous parent”, anyone would rather have the genetic history information, but that may not be the choice. The choice might be “be given up by an anonymous parent” or “be thrown in a dumpster”, in which case anyone would prefer to be abandoned anonymously. We cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good, and we cannot allow a safety valve that prevents born infants from being murdered to be closed off because we would prefer that their mothers surrender family history information and give the kid the option to find them years later.

  17. Lisa
    Lisa November 11, 2008 at 4:15 pm |

    Atlasien, if you think giving a child up for adoption, particularly an older child, is easy, or even possible for a woman who is already in crisis, you’re out of your mind. The amount of paperwork and number of legal hoops you have to jump through is just going to be insurmountable for a teenager who’s desperate to keep anyone from knowing she’s pregnant, or a parent who is realizing that they just can’t cope – and that’s even before you consider abusive situations. Also, if I recall correctly, Nebraska’s safe haven law doesn’t mandate permanent relinquishment, so there’s at least a possibility of the children being reunited with their parents, if their parents can get back on track.

  18. Ursula L
    Ursula L November 11, 2008 at 4:39 pm |

    Considering that the root problem is the lack of social support for families with special needs for their children, shouldn’t insurance/healthcare reform and better welfare/awareness mitigate the issue?

    Insurance and health care reform would mitigate the problem, but it can’t solve the problem completely.

    There is a huge variety of human experience, and human problems. Society can work to have help to prevent the more common problems. But no matter how comprehensive the plans available, there will be times when a parent will realize they can not properly care for their children which don’t neatly fit the problems society has addressed.

    This type of law is a safety net for the safety nets. If the parents can’t deal, there is a safe place that has to pick up the slack. And that safe place is there no matter what the nature of the problems the parent is facing.

    ***

    For older kids/teenagers, I wonder if some of these cases are situations where the parents kicked the kids out, and the kids, having heard of this law, went to the nearest emergency room and said they were abandoned. This would be a good safety net in the other direction – when parents have abandoned kids, the kids have a place to go that is easy to find, and where the presumption of guilt is in their favor – not that they are runaways, but that they are abandoned (even though the two are often one and the same.)

  19. akeeyu
    akeeyu November 11, 2008 at 5:30 pm |

    Superlagirl,

    “And maybe I’m just hypersensitive about it, but this dumping off of children with psychiatric problems sounds suspiciously similar to the sending away of children with developmental disabilities that was so popular in the 50s and 60s. Is that really the route we want to go?”

    Yeah, but is it really better that they stay in the custody of a parent with no resources, a parent at the end of their rope, a parent desperate enough to DO this sort of thing?

    Sure, there SHOULD be services, but the picture I’m getting is that there AREN’T. We shouldn’t be making these kids pay for a broken system with their lives and their futures. The situation sucks, but jeez, the home life already has to be pretty bad if they’re ending up dumped on the hospital doorstep.

  20. Ali
    Ali November 11, 2008 at 6:03 pm |

    I don’t have much to add to the actual discussion but

    Lauren,
    Thanks for posting about this and bringing issues like this to our attention.

    and Alara Rogers,
    holy crap thanks for your comments. I don’t think you can spell it out any clearer than what you just wrote,

  21. atlasien
    atlasien November 11, 2008 at 6:23 pm |

    First of all, I don’t think it’s easy to voluntarily relinquish custody of older children… I never said that it was. I was talking about anonymous infant Safe Haven laws, which, as I said, are a linked but different issue. I’m not arguing any position on the Nebraska law, actually, just pointing out that when it comes to older children Safe Haven laws don’t involve the troubling problem of anonymity.

    “The choice might be “be given up by an anonymous parent” or “be thrown in a dumpster”, in which case anyone would prefer to be abandoned anonymously.”

    This is what anonymous infant Safe Haven supporters always say. It sounds nice, but the problem is, you can’t back it up with any statistics anywhere. The only people abandoning children in dumpsters are people with incredibly severe mental health problems, who don’t have the presence of mind anyway to take advantage of anonymous Safe Havens, no matter how well communicated. Safe Haven laws don’t reduce those cases. Communicating Safe Haven laws don’t reduce those cases. There’s no correlation whatsoever.

    Please refer to this report by the progressive and very respected Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute:

    http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/whowe/lastreport_coverpage.html

    The report–based on the most extensive research to date on the issue–shows that safe haven laws not only do not solve the problem of unsafe infant abandonment, but actually may encourage women to conceal pregnancies and then abandon infants who otherwise would have been placed for adoption through established legal procedures or been raised by relatives.

    On the other hand, the regressive National Council For Adoption (NCFA) with its deep Bush administration and pro-life ties, supports anonymous infant Safe Haven laws. I’m not aware of their position on Nebraska’s version including older children… i would be very interested in finding out.

  22. Superlagirl
    Superlagirl November 11, 2008 at 6:58 pm |

    “Yeah, but is it really better that they stay in the custody of a parent with no resources, a parent at the end of their rope, a parent desperate enough to DO this sort of thing?”

    Legalizing abandonment is the absolute laziest way we could possibly deal with these problems. Obviously, I’m not making any rules here. I’m just saying that Nebraska is planning to convene a special session of the legislature to address the Safe Haven law and that I think it would behoove them to consider replacing this policy with an emergency respite program that would function as a kind of “safety valve” without the finality of permanent relinquishment.

  23. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz November 11, 2008 at 7:09 pm |

    The only people abandoning children in dumpsters are people with incredibly severe mental health problems, who don’t have the presence of mind anyway to take advantage of anonymous Safe Havens, no matter how well communicated. Safe Haven laws don’t reduce those cases. Communicating Safe Haven laws don’t reduce those cases. There’s no correlation whatsoever.

    Can you refer me to your source on this one? I ask because the original outcries that motivated safe haven laws were based on “Prom baby in dumpster!” hyperventilation, and I can’t ever recall a reference to the mental health of the teenagers involved.

  24. akeeyu
    akeeyu November 11, 2008 at 7:21 pm |

    Actually, I think not doing anything is the absolute laziest way we could deal with these problems, and hey, we’re already doing that in most states.

    I don’t think Safe Haven is a magic bullet, but hey, we’ve already got a ton of underfunded programs that don’t work, right? I’m willing to bet that an underfunded emergency respite system, since it would have to compete for funds with all the other programs, wouldn’t be a magic bullet, either.

    Sometimes you DO have to throw money at the problem. Throwing money at this problem, however, requires the population at large to CARE about the problem, which is kinda tricky.

  25. Superlagirl
    Superlagirl November 11, 2008 at 7:49 pm |

    Okay, I don’t know what I did to earn all the sarcasm, akeeyu. I’m just saying that legalized abandonment is sketchy, especially when other alternatives are possible. And, no, I don’t think emergency respite would solve everything. Jesus.

  26. Suzanne
    Suzanne November 11, 2008 at 7:50 pm |

    I agree with the commenters who argue for people making more informed decisions about the responsibilities of raising children. I also realize that’s a privileged perspective and decision, and my comment addresses the issue only in that context. There was about 10 minutes in my life in my mid 20s that I thought I wanted to have kids. Now in my late 40s, me and the people in my inner circle of friends, straight and gay, married and not, have lives w/o kids. (That was a difficult sentence to construct, because the default thinking is that one has kids.) We have lives that are full and great. I don’t envy parents or a life of parenting. And that sounds blasphemous, doesn’t it because I’m somehow innately supposed to want to be a parent.

    I take the women’s movement to task on this issue, particularly when I meet women who are otherwise self-directed but seem to fall to the pressure from spouses and family to “have children” when they themselves aren’t convinced they want to. Last I looked, women were still doing all the emotional and domestic labor regardless of class and economic status.

    The economics of our society are only going to make it more difficult to be able to afford children, even for the two income middle class.

  27. shah8
    shah8 November 11, 2008 at 7:59 pm |

    I think alot of this discussion misses the point.

    It isn’t in the state or its supporting associates’ interests to have lots of happy, well-adjusted children, beyond the expense of raising such children.

    Many people are highly concious of the need to have a body of desperate low self-esteem people to do the scut work, as low cost labor in churches, schools, militaries, etc…Self-haters are also important in consensus building since they often do not ask for much or for concrete things (they want ill-defined love or structure).

    The Nebraska law is a failure in the sense that it was supposed to be yet another empty law for appearance’s sake that wound up having a concrete and visible change in affairs. Essentially, it’s a Soylent Green is made of peeeeeople! event. Left to its devices, the facade will go back up, and the only way people who want real change can proceed is by running with it and push for a national exposure as Lauren is doing here, and keep that focus national with an emphasis on driving towards a consensus on developing and redeveloping family services.

  28. Baby Love Child
    Baby Love Child November 11, 2008 at 10:18 pm |

    All legalized child abandonment laws should be repealed.

    I’m a feminist and reproductive autonomy supportive Bastard blogger who has been following the spread of and working against these laws since they were first called “baby Moses laws” (bMl) back in Texas nine years ago. (The first such was signed by then TX Gov. George W. Bush.

    The bMls are in many ways a product of the anti-adoptee, compulsory pregnancy supportive (anti-abortion), adoption industry lobby in VA, the “National Council for Adoption” or NCFA.

    Even the aged down infant-only versions encourage womyn to hide pregnancies, give birth in secret far from medical care, and then if they survive, pass the resultant child anonymously into a “paperfree” adoption, thus ensuring the child can go up for adoption without adopters ever having to fear ‘pesky birthparents’ reappearances at a later date.

    The laws utilize pregnant womyn as nothing more than an expendable resource, the resultant kids as product for resale- often netting states federal ‘adoption bonueses’ for kids deemed “special needs” purely by nature of having been abandoned.

    The actual needs of womyn and kids are irrelevant to dump law marketers.

    Nebraska is also one heck of a case study in the extent of outsourced and “Faith-based” “public-private partnerships.” As social support structures and mental health structures have been defunded, states have ever increasingly leaned upon “faith-based” ‘alternatives, but when push comes to shove, as the child dumps are showing, there is no there there. Despite all the state money being outsourced, when kids need real help, the privitized “help” turns out to be by and large non-existent.

    The reasons to oppose the dump laws are many from the end run they do around the Indian Child Welfare Act (or ICWA) to the way in most states they permanently deny the identity rights of the kids themselves.

    I’ve been blogging the Nebraska disaster, (which is distinct from most states’ dump laws not just in that it encourages the abandonment of older children, but also in that the abandoners themsevels, anyone with physical custody of said child at the time of the abandonment, are not anonymous.)

    You can find my ongoing work detailing the Nebraska disaster on my Nebraska tag.

    Just read in reverse chronological order from the bottom of the page up, from my first post, “SHAME on Nebraska!- When ‘we told you so,’ barely begins to scratch the surface” back on September 16th just after the first dumps, on through to my latest post, “Nebraska- another dump, and the small voice of a dumped boy, “**choose me** Im so damn lonely.”” on November 9th.

    These dump laws are to their core, anti-womyn, and anti-child. In state after state I’ve seen how they play out in practical application.

    State encouraged child abandonments aren’t ‘saving’ kids or helping womyn, they’re causing irrepairable harm that lasts for lifetimes.

  29. KMTBerry
    KMTBerry November 11, 2008 at 10:22 pm |

    This reminds me of my family history: prior to WWII, an “orphan” was any child who lacked ONE parent (not both as typically defined today). It was TOTALLY COMMON for working class women who lost husbands in factories or mines or on farms or for whatever reason to take their children to the orphanage and drop them off, to be redeemed if and when possible. This happened to my grandfather’s family. My Great grandfather died, and the two boys were placed in an orphanage and the infant girl was sent back to Scotland to be raised by her grandmother (I never really questioned why Aunt Helen had a thick Brougue and PopPop didn’t, but that was why. When she became an adult, she came back to America).

    At that time, there were simply so few jobs for women with children (especially infants) that you weren’t really expected to care for them alone. Unless you had MONEY. Re-marriage was the preferred route, of course (and eventually my great-grandmother DID remarry and redeem her two boys. Helen she left with her mother, figuring it would be MORE traumatic for Helen to recover her)

    If your child can ONLY GET the mental or physical health care they need by becoming wards of the state, I think parents SHOULD have the option to surrendar them. Maybe eventually this will convince the Republicans that social safety nets DO serve a real purpose (other than impoverishing them).

  30. Vail
    Vail November 11, 2008 at 10:22 pm |

    One thing that I think should really be encouraged by the government (and I can hear some people cringing already) is parenthood classes. Maybe give some tax break or something if people take them. As adoptive parents we attended classes, group sessions and watched videos. I don’t see it too much of a burden if others did the same thing either before or after having kids. We learned a lot about services that we could go to for help (for example Birth to 3) so that alone is worth it in my mind.

  31. atlasien
    atlasien November 11, 2008 at 10:59 pm |

    @evil_fizz: please refer to pages 6 through 7 of the Evan B. Donaldson report I linked to earlier in the thread. Here are some excerpts form the report:

    There have been almost 100 illegal abandonments during the last two years in Texas, and only 5 at safe havens. The rate of illegal abandonment in this first state to enact a safe haven law shows no sign of abating despite the fact that Texas has devoted resources to informing the public about it, including an extensive advertising campaign.

    Women and girls should be encouraged to give birth in hospitals, not be told implicitly that they can have babies anywhere as long as they bring them to a safe place afterward. In January 2002, a 19-year-old Wisconsin college student died while giving birth in a dormitory bathroom; her baby later died, too. What she planned for herself and the child became moot; she needed help before, not after, the fact. The health situation for pregnant teenagers is already dire: one-third do not get adequate prenatal care and their children’s infant mortality rate is 50 percent higher than for babies born to women over 20. Public policy should be focused on educating pregnant young women about the importance of prenatal care, not sanctioning unsafe births.

    Here’s a more recently published, balanced perspective from the NY Times that talks a bit more about the profile of neonaticide.

  32. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz November 11, 2008 at 11:51 pm |

    Atlasien, I am actually more curious about the characterization of women who dump their infant in a dumpster as severely mentally ill. It seems that there is (obviously) desperation, confusion, disconnect, and denial, all of which may arguably indicate mental illness. But I don’t think that’s dispositive. (My reading of the report you linked to doesn’t answer the question for me either, although it does suggest that mental illness is an issue in some of the cases studied.)

    I’m not arguing to be pedantic, just trying to get a handle on what kinds of services would be needed to meet the needs of the women who are targeted by these laws, as opposed to those who have availed themselves to the same.

  33. with compassion
    with compassion November 12, 2008 at 12:44 am |

    I applaud this forum for the variety and thoughtfulness of opinions offered.

    This particular law in Nebraska may need to be revised to accurately reflect its original intent to protect newborns and their mothers. However, the issue of desperate parents who see no other option than to give up their older children is not as isolated as we might wish to think, nor is it going away.

    I am a mental health professional working in a state-funded program for teenagers who are beyond their parents’ control and still living at home. At least once a week, I hear a parent say, “Have the state come get my child.” It is ALWAYS startling to hear. Nearly all of these parents change their minds when they learn that they will face abandonment charges or risk losing their other children. Yet their real and daily struggle doesn’t go away.

    In the best of circumstances, parents become actively engaged in treatment; with hard work, real change can be made and relief can be found. Yet too often, I see parents who are already exhausted and frustrated, hoping someone will simply “fix” their child. These are parents who know enough to ask for help and get their kid in a program, but who often turn down family therapy or fail to attend free parenting classes. Parental involvement in treatment is key to success. Some of these parents have physical ailments or mental health issues of their own. Some are single parents already working two jobs whose schedules make it difficult to do the work of family treatment, let alone monitor their child’s whereabouts and well-being. Now factor in that some have children who hit them, steal from them, run away, skip school, abuse drugs, bring strangers into their homes, or have innumerable other mental health or behavioral issues. These parents are demoralized, grief stricken and guilt stricken. Each family has its story and it is simply too easy to label “bad” parents and “bad” kids.

    Now picture one of these kids getting pregnant…

    A full solution would not just include effective laws, social programs and treatment, but also a reconsideration of how we as a society raise children. Even with treatment, struggling parents and children need extended family, friends, neighbors, and schools to take a real interest, and to offer support when one cannot do it alone. A frightened teen mom, a desperate parent of an out of control teen… how do we let this isolation occur? This is not just a matter for state agencies and law makers. It seems the best response would take place in multiple forums at multiple levels (legal, social, community, educational, family, individual, etc.), although the implementation is apparently not so simple.

    I am left with the thought that we should not demonize others for their choices, shortcomings, struggles, or despair. I also agree that we have a society that dictates to everyone that they are supposed to parents yet often fails to address informed decision making about the responsibilities of parenting, or provide resources to those most in need. Sometimes even the best intentioned people find themselves in situations where there seem to be no options. Life does not always go according to plan. Do we alienate, leave it up to someone else, punish or help?

  34. Baby Love Child
    Baby Love Child November 12, 2008 at 2:52 am |

    I should also add that the baby-dump laws have been used as part of anti-abortion legal efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.

    The Norma McCorvey Sandra Cano petition utilized such laws as an argument against the necessity of abortion access.

    Which is to say abortion access supporters should think twice about what the actual effect of and legacy of these laws may turn out to be.

  35. Sarah
    Sarah November 12, 2008 at 10:33 am |

    I don’t see the connection with abortion access. Well, not completely. Obviously if your reason for having an abortion is purely not wanting to raise a child, and you’re totally happy going through the rest of the pregnancy and giving birth to a child you then give up and never see again, and for some reason don’t want to go through the normal channels for adoption – then this might offer another option (which is a good thing, I think). But there are many other reasons a woman might need or want an abortion.

  36. Quercki M. Singer
    Quercki M. Singer November 12, 2008 at 11:32 am |

    Every child deserves to be wanted.

    Anything that helps us arrive at that goal is good. The problem itself is hard.

    I just checked with my 17-year old daughter, who was unaware of the baby surrender options. Just one data point in a privileged family.

  37. ACG
    ACG November 12, 2008 at 11:55 am |

    Even the aged down infant-only versions encourage womyn to hide pregnancies, give birth in secret far from medical care, and then if they survive, pass the resultant child anonymously into a “paperfree” adoption, thus ensuring the child can go up for adoption without adopters ever having to fear ‘pesky birthparents’ reappearances at a later date.

    The laws utilize pregnant womyn as nothing more than an expendable resource, the resultant kids as product for resale- often netting states federal ‘adoption bonueses’ for kids deemed “special needs” purely by nature of having been abandoned.

    I’ll confess to not being informed enough about the issue to speak to the motivations of people who support the bill. And I won’t try to argue that Safe Haven laws fix everything and/or have no negative effects. But I don’t really know how they, on a large scale, encourage women to do the things that the women who are the targets of the laws are prepared to do anyway.

    To clarify that last, convoluted sentence: What about the teenage girl who is already desperate to hide her pregnancy because of the reaction she’ll get (or she thinks she’ll get) at home? Whether or not a Safe Haven law exists, she’s likely to give birth in secret without medical care. The only difference is that now she has a safe place to put the baby rather than a dumpster.

    What should we do instead? “Out” fearful mothers to a judgmental society and confine them to a hospital to give birth? Force or coerce them into abortions so that they don’t end up with a baby to abandon?

    Repealing Safe Haven laws would likely have a similar effect to banning abortion. Women would continue doing the things they’ve done anyway, but now they’d have to do it in unsafe conditions that would endanger their health. The solution, as with abortion, isn’t to make that option illegal but to try to prevent the circumstances that would require that option.

    Educate girls and women about birth control (and empower them to choose abstinence, if that’s what they want) and make birth control affordable and available to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Offer women affordable pre- and post-natal health care and publicize the fact that it’s available. Make adoption easier for the mother. Give pregnant women a place to go when their home situation makes them afraid to reveal their pregnancy. Work to reduce the stigma associated with teen pregnancy, unwed pregnancy, abortion, and adoption.

    And if, despite all of the available resources, a pregnant woman should still want to give birth and abandon her child anonymously, give her a safe place to do it so that, even though the situation is far from ideal, the baby has a chance at some kind of a life.

  38. atlasien
    atlasien November 12, 2008 at 12:28 pm |

    @evil_fizz: this may be tautological, but I think neonaticide kind of presupposes severe mental illness. I don’t just mean conditions like schizophrenia or sociopathy, but also reactions to major trauma (such as rape) and being in a delusional state (in denial about being pregnant). Suicide is similar… I think we should assume it’s due to mental illness unless proven otherwise, because suicide rates among people with mental illness are so high. Maybe my definition of mental illness is too broad, though.

    I think neonaticide can only ever “make sense” in conditions that just aren’t like that of the modern-day U.S.. Say, you are in a hunter-gatherer society that is going through an unexpected starvation period and have to make choices as to which children you can actually feed.

    Otherwise, it’s profoundly irrational and goes against instinct… I don’t want to make a sexist appeal to “maternal instinct” here, I’m talking more about a more basic human inhibition against taking life.

    I agree it’s really hard to target how to reduce it… but more research definitely needs to be done. The best start would be to track statistics of infant abandonment and neonaticide on a federal level, which is currently not being done.

    @with compassion: that’s a really good comment, and it’s great to hear from someone who is so close to the issue and has some practical experience with it. There is a lot of ideological argument on the Nebraska Law (some I agree with, some I disagree, some I’m not sure) but ultimately what is going to work in the real world is most important.

  39. atlasien
    atlasien November 12, 2008 at 12:36 pm |

    “Repealing Safe Haven laws would likely have a similar effect to banning abortion.”

    That’s totally unsupported… I posted a lot of information earlier that argues convincingly that there is just no proof that Safe Haven laws with anonymity have any affect at all on survival rates of the child OR mother.

    Again, it sounds good, but there’s nothing backing it up, and a lot of negative side effects and nasty stuff attached to it. There are arguments that these laws increase the risk of the mother dying based on cases like the woman in Wisconsin I quoted above. It can’t be proven either way.

  40. Rosa
    Rosa November 12, 2008 at 3:57 pm |

    Okay, let me just say as a given that we need a better safety net and parents should not be going this alone, alright?

    That said, every few days I see in the newspaper a man who killed his partner, kids, and then killed or tried to kill himself. There was one this week, a little boy named Nicky whose sisters watched him die after their dad stabbed him. The last time the Nebraska law was in the paper here, it was in the same edition as one of these cases. Women do the same thing to children, though they seem not to kill their partners – a few years ago we had a mother throw her children in the river after repeatedly seeking care for them. She threw herself in after them, but she was rescued. An adoptive mother tried to slit both her daughters throats here not so long ago. This is only going to get worse if the economy gets worse.

    It should be a jumping-off point for social services and other services, not the end of the story. But that emergency outlet should be there, for kids of any age.

  41. kw
    kw November 12, 2008 at 6:01 pm |

    Just to follow up on what KMTBerry says about women who voluntarily gave up caring for their children for short periods of time in the past – men did this, too. I couldn’t help but think about this long-gone system of short-term care when I heard about the father who abandoned his 9 kids because he couldn’t care of them at the time.

    Parents who left their children in orphanages could often visit their kids during the week and even sometimes take them home on weekends.

  42. Nic
    Nic November 12, 2008 at 7:21 pm |

    “This reminds me of my family history: prior to WWII, an “orphan” was any child who lacked ONE parent (not both as typically defined today). It was TOTALLY COMMON for working class women who lost husbands in factories or mines or on farms or for whatever reason to take their children to the orphanage and drop them off, to be redeemed if and when possible.” -KMTBerry

    My mother grew up this way, in an orphanage with her brother (my uncle). This would have been in the late 40s or early 50s. My grandfather ran off and left my grandmother, and she couldn’t support the 2 kids, so she put them in an orphanage. She’d write them letters and visit when she could, but yes, they were treated as orphans even though both their parents were very much alive.

    When my mother was in high school, she went to live with her grandmother.
    My grandmother was ashamed that she had to “give up” her children- so much so that I only found out after her death. She wouldn’t let my mom tell me while she was alive so I wouldn’t think less of her.

  43. Anon.
    Anon. November 14, 2008 at 2:56 am |

    If I had a kid with very severe psych problems, I’d be inclined to do exactly what these parents did.

    It can be almost completely impossible to deal with, *especially* without massive amounts of money.

    Maybe, uh, SINGLE PAYER universal health coverage would help deal with this, like so many other problems?

  44. Links - 2008-11-14 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

    […] at Feministe provides a news on the use of Safe Haven laws, originally intended to provide a sanctuary for unwanted infants which have now become a place […]

  45. Roni
    Roni November 14, 2008 at 11:31 am |

    I’m in agreement that dropping a child off anonymously is not great for the child; no medical history, and state care with spotty social services is certainly not ideal.

    Just as we’re aware of this, the parents of the child in question are probably are of it. If the parents want to drop them off anyway, the kid’s better off without them. The unfitness of the parent correlates to the how bad of a situation they’re willing to leave their child.

  46. southern students for choice - athens
    southern students for choice - athens November 16, 2008 at 5:04 am |

    Not much from us this morning in the way of a different point of view, just a few thoughts on some of the comments above:

    1) Lauren wrote at the top of the page:

    “Should these laws be revised to remove eligibility for children of a certain age to be admitted by parents as wards of the state, or is it better that kids are safely leaving environments in which their parents feel unable to care for them?”

    …One thing that’s remarkable about that (insightful) dichotomy Lauren phrases is (probably unintentionally) the implict choice it poses between (a) denying parents the right to easily surrender custody of older, presumably dysfunctional children (from families which might be presumed to be dysfunctional also) one the one hand, and (b) viewing the situation into which the kids are being surrendered as a safe and nurturing one. It’s an either/or dichotomy which leaves the free will and desires of the children out of the picture. Of course, for very young teens and preadolescent children their free will isn’t so much of an issue, but it certainly is an issue with the older adolescents who much of the controversy in the surrendering of children in Nebraska was about.

    It’s very different, the care that a newborn gets when left at an emergency room or fire station, and the care that a 15-year-old, naturally rebellious, and probably misdiagnosed and overmedicated teen gets from the same institutions. It’s so freaking obvious what difference there is that it’s a waste of space to go much further, except to say, this is one reason why so many kids run away – and why running away can be seen rationally by a teen as an option, and why so many more dysfunctional youth did run away in decades past (maybe, we wonder, in some cases to a better environment than they could have managed to arrange with their family or in a foster home), and why so much emphasis has been placed in some runaway destination cities like L.A, Miami, Chicago, and elsewhere to meet the needs of runaways.

    2) Alara Rogers wrote in comment #7:

    “But the problem with this (regular adoption) is that, if the woman absolutely does not want anyone to know that she was pregnant, the thought that the kid could come back later on and tell her entire family that she was pregnant in her teens might lead her to think that dropping it in the trash is the lesser of two evils.”

    … Bingo.

    That’s exactly one of the main reasons why adoptions were mostly closed in this country for decades, beginning with progressive reforms of the …um… industry in the 40s and 50s. Confidentiality was key to getting women especially in those days to willingly give up children for adoption, as you can imagine. Giving up babies willingly into closed adoption was the most common experience of young women who got pregnant unintentionally (or somewhat-intentionally) in that time, as Joni Mitchell explored in the song “Little Green”, off of her 1971 album “Blue”. If you’re not familiar with that song and how it described the experience of so many young women in that time – and of Joni herself, as the song directly refers to a very young child Joni (about 22 years old herself at the time) put up for adoption in 1965 – if you’re not familiar with that, check out the song (and eventually the album, please) with these few links.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joni_Mitchell

    Joni Mitchell – Little Green – October 1967 – Live

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AATdTSUfjk&feature=related

    Confidential, closed adoptions were also part of a reform movement that was meant to respond to abuses of the process and outright coercion and, well, kidnapping in some cases by people working more or less with state welfare agencies. These stories were very much alive in the experiences of young people in the late 50s (yes, fifties) through 70s when so much good was done by progressive activists, professionals, and laypeople, especially in the social sciences in shaping policies and groups addressing these issues.

    Anyway, one of the worst (and most colorful) examples from the few decades before the reform era was “Georgia Tann”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Tann

    If you’ve never heard about her and that era, we’d suggest you learn about it, starting with Wikipedia and the books and links on that page.

    When you’re done reading about her you’ll have some real insights into the many ways that adoption can be manipulated to take advantage of scared, poor young women (and impoverished communities who think that caring for those women and their children would have an unacceptably negative impact). You may also see parallels between the abuses of those days and the pressure that some young, poor women feel today who become pregnant unintentionally to (1) carry their pregnancy to term and (2) surrender the child after birth … and how “open adoption” can subtly pressure them into making that choice.

    And you’ll also understand why and how open adoption / crypto-pro-life pieces like “Juno” make our f*cking skin crawl.

    And after you’re done reading about “Georgia Tann” and thinking about “Juno”, go back and listen to “Little Green” off of “Blue”.

    Trust us, it will help.

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